OVER THE PAST 24 YEARS, M. CLARK BLANCHARD has built his all-ages general and restorative dental practice strictly by word of mouth, in a manner of speaking. So it makes total sense that a friend was responsible for inviting him to become the Sounders’ dentist.
The friend was Mike Morris, the Sounders’ medical director, who Blanchard had gotten to know at their sons’ soccer matches. Back then Seattle’s minor league soccer team had nowhere to turn when, say, a filling fell out during a match. Blanchard, a fan of the sport, gamely took on the work, doing some consultations pro bono. Athletes returned to the club with good reviews. Once the Sounders made the shift to Major League Soccer, which provides insurance, Morris and team trainers continued to pass the word to players that Blanchard was great not only for injuries but for annual checkups.
Since 2006, Blanchard has made a rotating roster of Sounders athletes feel at home in his chair, including defender James Riley. Nicknamed “Giggles” in his college soccer days for his lighthearted disposition, Riley has a flawless smile. He never even wore braces to achieve his perfectly aligned pearls. Not a single cavity has marred his mouth. In a lifetime of playing soccer, he has never cracked a tooth. And he wants to keep it that way.
When he wasn’t holding down the midfield for the Sounders, the team’s Humanitarian of the Year ran clinics, mentored kids, and attended fundraisers for local children’s and health nonprofits such as the Renton/Skyway Boys and Girls Club and the Lenny Wilkens Foundation. His charity work stems from values instilled by his South Korean–born mother. “My mom was always willing to help other people even though we didn’t have a lot,” says Riley. Family friends took turns driving Riley to practice and picking him up from games. “It’s my turn to reciprocate those things,” he says. His pristine smile was rarely at rest when he was coaching kids, doling out personalized jerseys emblazoned with his number (7), or presenting oversize novelty checks to nonprofits.
In his first two years with the team, Riley scheduled appointments at his childhood dentist’s office in Colorado Springs when he returned home to see his mom during the off-season. But he’d finally sought a referral from Morris, so last October, Riley ventured inside Blanchard’s Factoria practice. He settled into the hygienist’s chair, with a clear view of Newport High School’s pitch. Once the checkup was complete the conversation segued to soccer. “Dr. Blanchard’s just really pleasant and efficient,” says Riley. “You want it to be simple and pain free and that’s exactly what it was. The hygienist made my next appointment right there while I was in the chair.”
Riley went home with a polished smile and encouragement from Blanchard to keep up the good work. “Stop things before they start,” says Blanchard.
In November, the Sounders lineup changed again. Soon after his visit to Blanchard’s office, the midfielder was traded to Chivas USA, and Riley may return to his hometown dentist yet. “I will see how the team likes the dentist in LA before I decide.”